Reliable Security Information

National Security Strategy Released

The White House has released the National Security Strategy.

The NSS sketches out a very broad (and one might say bland) picture, setting very general themes and ensuring that there is a "big tent" approach to national security. And certainly no government official today wants to follow in Dean Acheson's footsteps:
his famous declaration in January 1950 that the U.S. defense perimeter in Asia "runs from Ryukyus to the Philippine Islands" and that "[s]o far as the military security of other areas in the Pacific is concerned, it must be clear that no person can guarantee these areas against military attack" is widely believed to have signaled to the North Koreans and the Soviets that the U.S. would not interfere with their plans for (forcible) Korean reunification. One finds no such level of specificity today.

But I was struck by two points in the current document, which, if they serve as the basis for more detailed guidance of U.S. strategy, may have important ramifications.

The first is the Obama administration's committment to a "disciplined approach to setting priorities and making tradeoffs among competing programs and activities" as the United States works to rebuild its foundations of national power. Does this mean a retreat from maximalist positions? When it comes to policy toward the Eurasian space, does it mean accepting a greater degree of Russian influence, even if not desirable, in order to free up U.S. resources for other theaters, under the assumption that even if the Russian government is able to more easily consolidate the resources of Eurasia under its aegis, that a resurgent Russia is still held in check by the overall balance of power with Europe, China, Japan, and others? What does it mean for greater burden-sharing with emerging powers? How this principle is applied will be interesting to observe.

The second is this. Despite the rhetorical commitment to a renewed international order, the section dealing with the International Criminal Court contained an interesting caveat. The NSS notes that the United States is "supporting the ICC's prosecution of those cases that advance U.S. interests and values, consistent with the requirements of U.S. law." But most other countries want a stronger international order in order to constrain U.S. (and perhaps China's) power; a U.S. pledge to strengthen international institutions only when it doesn't interfere with U.S. interests is not likely to win over much support from the emerging "World without the West" states, particularly Brazil and India. But the U.S. domestic political system will not countenance any major shift of sovereign authority to international bodies.

All the right tones are struck--cooperation, engagement, and so on. But I don't know how practical a road map the current strategy will be. How this NSS informs and guides the series of strategic documents which arise from it remains to be seen.

[The views expressed are entirely my own, and do not reflect those of the Naval War College or of the U.S. government.]

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